on Religions, Creeds and Value Systems:
Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights
Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
25 June 2018
On 25 June 2018 the International Environment Forum participated in the World Conference on Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights, held at the United Nations Palais des Nations under the patronage of H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, who gave the opening keynote, along with a message from the UN Secretary-General. It was organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, and co-sponsored by the Arab Though Forum, Bridges to Common Ground, the European Centre for Peace and Development, the International Catholic Migration Commission, the World Council of Churches, the World Council of Religious Leaders, and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). The 34 speakers and panelists included high level representatives of Islam, the Catholic and Protestant churches, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and interfaith movements, as well as former ministers, ambassadors, heads of UN agencies, academics and theologians, and several Special Rapporteurs on human rights.
In his inaugural address, H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal asked if this was a make-or-break moment, with a gold curtain separating rich and poor, and an insecurity council unable to address weapons that destabilise the world. He described the global hunger for human dignity, and the need to speak out against injustice, calling for a social global Marshall Plan. We should empower and enable international citizenship to wage peace, which is less expensive than war, for our mutually assured survival. Only fearlessness is adequate for our time. He hoped that the Global Compacts for Migration and for Refugees would be agreed by the end of 2018. To support the 2030 Agenda, we need a moral lobby for equal citizenship rights, appreciating our diversity.
There were then eight keynotes on religious perspectives which shared common themes of the need for dialogue among religions to stand up for our shared humanity and nurture equality in schools, jobs and places of worship. Today the religious and secular worlds are separated by a huge gap, with religion seen as part of the problem. Extremism and fanaticism kill religion, and religious leaders must speak out against the instrumentalization of religion for division. Religions should serve as a bridge over differences, since they share one common origin, thus ensuring religious freedom for all.
A first panel focussed on the concept of equal citizenship and points of convergence between religions, with reference to an extensive working document prepared by the organizers. Religions agree on almost all points, with only 10% of theological differences. Humanity is a single family, and we have responsibilities towards each other and the world. Several panelists referred to shared positions on human rights, and on the needs of refugees and migrants.
A second panel considered equal citizenship rights for vulnerable, disadvantaged and discriminated social segments, looking at case studies of gender, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and indigenous people. It highlighted citizenship as a moral concept, and the need to educate for citizenship and participation in decision-making. Still today, there are movements using fear of minorities, xenophobia, chauvinistic nationalism and toxic rhetoric, reinforced by hate speech in social media. More than three quarters of stateless people are minorities. The UN only began to engage with religion in 2010, with an Interagency Task Force on Religion. The 2006 Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities has changed the approach from medical (protected patients) to social, opening the way for the disabled to be integrated into society.
The third panel explored issues with migrants, refugees, and internally-displaced persons. People move to escape violence, persecution, or poverty and lack of opportunities, and suffer from the breakdown in education, health, shelter, security and land rights. Neoliberal policies are not based on the dignity of human beings and protection of the environment, leaving far too many behind, and creating a growing disconnect with the economic and social elite. Faith movements have a responsibility to move forward on this issue, becoming a driving force for a sustainable world order. There is a new level of dynamism at the inter-religious level based on shared principles and values, but there is still too little sharing of knowledge and working together among faiths. We need spiritual values and a moral compass to address this issue. All displaced persons have human rights, and a lack of citizenship undermines their human potential. Many displacements can drag on for years, and will increasingly become permanent, for example from small island developing states. Present arrangements to deal with this are insufficient. IEF President Arthur Dahl was one of the panelists, with a paper on Religion and Migration. A short report is at http://www.gchragd.org/en/article/dr-arthur-dahl-migrants-are-denied-mo…, and the paper is available at https://iefworld.org/node/929.
The final panel was on moving towards a new paradigm. It noted some of the disconnects in religious sentiments, with the problem not in beliefs but in divisive belonging becoming tribal and rejecting others. There is a wide gap between legal equality and equality before God. A new paradigm is obviously needed. We must give people the right to hope. Finding relevant texts in the Holy Books can counteract fear from religious bias, and provide resources to respect the others. God is testing us by what he has revealed to us. We should compete with each other in doing good deeds. Large majorities want reduced military expenditures and more on social needs, but all countries do the reverse. It was pointed out that the youth are absent from the conference, but they will inherit the world. Equal citizenship can be a gateway to global citizenship and peace.
A declaration was signed at the end of the conference (see extract below), and the proceedings and papers will eventually be published (report with pictures).
The Declaration signed at the end of the conference includes the following Ten-Point Global Strategic Plan
1. To unite in a common endeavor of religious and lay institutions, and their respective leaders, to harness the collective energy of all religions, creeds and value-systems to uphold equal citizenship rights, to reject the instrumentalization of religions, to promote their authentic meanings and universal values, and finally to advocate openness and plurality of approach towards other faiths, creeds and value-systems; To move towards a world where the generalization of equal citizenship rights contributes to social and cultural diversity to be celebrated in resilient and inclusive societies thus preventing conflict among diverse sub-groups in society which gives rise to Islamophobia, Christianophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination;
2. To address the legitimate concerns relating to the connotation of “minorities” as allegedly exogenous groups when referring to segments of the population which are an integral part of a nation’s citizenry. Harmonious integration of all segments of the population in resilient and inclusive societies should be enhanced through effective achievement of equal citizenship rights making the re-grouping of citizens into denominational sub-identities superfluous as a political tool;
3. To enforce all rights and duties of people on the basis of their role as rightsholders of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights. The promotion and safeguarding of equal citizenship rights should encompass the concept of entitlement and preclude a freezing of accumulated inequalities;
4. To preserve the diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious heritages of transit and host countries, while, at the same time, offering opportunities for integration to arriving refugees and migrants. The aim is to promote mutual contributions and respective resilience, thus avoiding forced assimilation of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons, in line with the provisions set forth in Sustainable Development Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to avoid proselytization;
5. To work towards the full realization of equal citizenship rights which will require not only vertical interaction between society and the State but also horizontal interaction within society itself. To be successful, both forms of interaction will require, where necessary, to transform a culture of compliance into a culture of accountability based on answerability and enforcement. This initiative will involve local, national or regional initiatives for promoting spiritual convergence and commonality of social purpose. The implementation of equal citizenship rights will gradually weaken discrimination, whether gender-related or based on other specificities including inter alia disability, ethnic or religious origin, age bracket, access to employment, health care, or sharing of resources;
6. To guarantee respect for the equality of women and men, girls and boys, within families, local communities, and society at large, by integrating in all efforts the promotion and the implementation of equal citizenship rights. Gender discrimination with respect to citizenship rights is a salient issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority. In many parts of the world there are States that deny female citizens equal rights with male citizens with regard to acquiring, changing and retaining their nationality, and to conferring nationality to non-national spouses or children. Religious traditions can and should play an important role in understanding and accompanying societal changes as they address progress toward recognizing equality between women and men and to prevent potential tensions between such evolving social mores and traditional teachings and practices;
7. To promote equal citizenship rights as a sustained objective, starting with its implementation at school level. Education about, through and for equal citizenship rights can only be achieved by promoting a change in national policies, reviewing school development plans and developing inclusive classrooms and teaching methodologies. Decision-makers must acknowledge and embrace the idea that equal citizenship education is essential to promote peace, dialogue and social cohesion as well as to alleviate social tensions;
8. To encourage political and civil authorities to dialogue with spiritual leadership in order to assist in promoting inter-religious literacy and in applying ethical principles to the local context. Whether religion is central or either marginal or absent from public discourse in a given country, while at the same time being central to social components thereof, it is important to encourage the state authorities including those that identify as secular, to engage with the relevant religious traditions thus enlisting the collaboration and understanding of all to prevent potential social and/or religious tension or conflict;
9. To respect within and between all countries, whether there is a separation between State and faiths or not, the right to freedom of religion and ensure that public laws and policies are applied equitably through an inclusive approach to religious diversity and not through exclusion of their public and private expression, so as to comply with article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights;
10. To spread equal citizenship rights as the gateway to the concept of global citizenship, a gateway in other words, to world peace.
Last updated 14 July 2018